Chapter 1: Sad Grey Eyes
He looked up slowly, grey eyes casting out over the sky lit up with the brilliant colors of the sunset. The normally blue above had become awash with purples, pinks, and oranges, making it a scene fit for any painting. The man wiped his forehead with one bronze hand, rubbing dirt across his skin, succeeding in only removing a bit of sweat. At least, it was quitting time.
As if summoned to mind, the words he wanted to hear suddenly rang out across the garden.
“Dinner is ready, son.”
He smiled to himself. Granny had told him this morning that she was going to cook his favorite, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It had been one of the first bits of solid food he could consume when they first found him six months before.
“Be there in a minute,” he called back.
The grey-haired woman in the doorway smiled and waved her hand in dismissal before disappearing back inside the house.
Shaking his head, he returned to the weed below him that was giving him trouble. It seemed the roots were deeper than he had thought. Digging his fingers into the ground, he relied on their strength to pull up the roots. With a squelch, the stubborn plant burst free, spraying him with more bits of soil and plant debris.
He spat. Some of the dirt had flown onto his lips. This time he was more than glad that he had started to pull up his longer-than-necessary ebony hair. It was in a loose ponytail at the nape of his neck.
The man again surveyed his work, satisfied that this portion of the vegetable garden was now weed-free. He put his hands on the ground, bracing himself so that he could stand. He was tall and lithe, dressed all in black. When they found him he was dressed like that, and he really didn’t feel comfortable in anything else.
He glanced once more towards the sky, taking in the beautiful colors of the setting sun, appreciating the wonders of life. For some reason, he found that he could be thankful for things more than the people around him. It was like he had come close to losing it all.
However, he really couldn’t say because he didn’t remember. He knew nothing of himself before he met Granny and Gramps.
Not even his own name…
The dark-haired man with granite eyes turned away from the sunset and scooped up his grey cloak, which matched his eyes perfectly, from where he had neatly piled it on the ground and headed for the door to an awaiting meatloaf dinner.
He wondered what was beyond the mountains and the sea, what life out there was like. Who he once was and why he was, were all questions he consistently asked himself.
They had found him, washed up on the beach, bleeding and unconscious. Granny and Gramps had thought he was someone close to them, but, when they turned him over, they realized they were wrong.
He supposed that they pitied him once they understood he was actually alive. He could never repay them for the love and care they had given him.
They didn’t even shudder at his odd appearance at the time, taking him at face value. His scarred left hand, glowing grey eyes, pale ivory skin, which later tanned under the strength of the sun, and raven tresses that were so odd did not startle them one bit.
They even stood up for him against the townspeople, who caused a stir. They were yelling something about demons and monsters. Granny and Gramps just pushed them all away and eventually won the townspeople to their side.
And now, six months later, he knew everyone in the tiny town, struggling to rebuild after some war. Apparently this mega corporation had been the cause of most of it. But the man-with-no-name could get no more information. It was like there was an unspoken code among them to never tell of the events.
He pushed open the door and stepped into the warm kitchen that smelled faintly of fresh-baked bread. He walked silently over to the sink where he began to wash up, removing all traces of dirt from his face and hands.
“Did you finish the weeding, son?” questioned Gramps. He sat at the table, smoking on a pipe as he worked on some type of electrical device.
The man called son shook his head. “Just the tomatoes and the squash. The gysahl weeds are stubborn this season. I will get the pumpkins and the peppers tomorrow.”
Granny tut-tutted as she placed the last of the food on the table, snatching whatever Gramps was fixing from his hand angrily. “You shouldn’t work yourself too hard, Za-… child, you have just regained most of your strength.”
The man shook his head. “You may call me that if you wish. I do not mind. I only wish that I really could be the man you want me to be. Besides, I certainly have enough strength to pull weeds, even if I am not much use for anything else.”
“Nonsense, we will call you by your proper name,” insisted Gramps, sharing a friendly glare with his wife. He wasn’t done fixing the thing yet.
“But I do not know my name,” muttered the man quietly. “I would rather be called something than nothing.”
“Fine then, Zack it is,” said Granny firmly. “Now, come sit at the table, I think you’ve cleaned up enough.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He meandered over to the table, draping his heavily clasped cloak on the back of the rather ordinary and plain wooden chair.
The table was laden with food: the meatloaf, some mashed potatoes and even some of the freshly picked vegetables from the garden, steamed and drizzled with cheese. It was old fashioned home cooking at its finest.
“That man was here again, Sarah,” commented Gramps.
“What man?” asked Granny, frowning slightly.
“The pilot, you know, Highwind, looking for his friend Valentine,” muttered Gramps. “I ran into him over at Alan’s.”
Zack felt a stirring in his heart at the two names of the two men but couldn’t understand why. Neither of them seemed at all familiar to him. He frowned as he thought about it.
“Something wrong, Zack?” asked Gramps.
“No.” The dark-haired man shook his head. “What were you saying about Highwind?”
“Oh, right.” Gramps settled firmly into his seat, smiling up at Granny as she served up the mashed potatoes. “Poor man, he insists that the Valentine fellow is not dead. I think they were more than friends, but he doesn’t admit to more.”
“And the town is sure that this person hasn’t come through here?” asked Granny, frowning slightly. She remembered painfully the search for her own flesh and blood and was empathetic with Highwind.
Gramps shook his head. “No. Apparently Valentine was rather unique looking. Kind of hard to miss you know. Crimson eyes and cloak, perpetually pale skin, tall with a golden claw, I know I’d remember him.”
“I hope he finds him,” Zack said, albeit a bit glumly. For a minute he got his hopes up that perhaps this Highwind was looking for him. But no, the only thing he had in common with Valentine was that he was tall.
“As do we,” nodded Granny. “I know the pain of losing a loved one.” A brief silence fell over the dinner table.
“This tastes great, sweetheart,” said Gramps, sharing a smile with his wife. They were the perfect example of true love and sent a pang through Zack’s heart. He wanted to experience that feeling. But there was also this odd sensation within him that spoke volumes about how he already had.
He dreamed at night, usually in blurred images. Sometimes they were in color, sometimes black and white. He couldn’t tell whether or not they were memories as he had nothing to base the truth off of. Usually the dreams were flashes of images and often times they turned to nightmares.
He saw glowing crimson eyes and talons dripping with blood. He heard the voice of a young girl, and someone making vague references to feelings of utmost guilt. But the most reoccurring scene was one of blue eyes and the smell of cigarette smoke. Those were the memories that appeared nearly every night and even haunted his daytime hours.
“Zack, honey, would you pass the salt and pepper?” asked Granny, pulling him out of his musings.
He shook his head to clear his mind. “Uh… sure.” He reached for the shakers next to him and handed them to the grey-haired elderly woman next to him. Her amber eyes sparkled happily.
“Are you alright?” asked Gramps. “You seem a bit out of it.”
“Oh?” questioned Zack, picking up his fork to return to the bounty of food on his plate. “I hadn’t realized…”
“Are you sleeping alright?” asked Granny.
Zack sighed and didn’t say anything.
“Is it the dreams again?”
The dark-haired younger man laid down his fork, the food feeling like a leaden weight in his stomach. “I wish I could understand them. Or even see more than just the flashes. Maybe then I would know who I was.”
Granny reached out and took his scarred hand in hers, rubbing a thumb over the raised flesh soothingly. “You shouldn’t rush things, honey. They will come to you in time.”
“I can’t help but feel a burden on you two,” muttered Zack. He noticed the look on their faces and quickly elaborated. “You both have been nothing but kind to me, and believe me; I wish I was who you want to see. But there is also this part of me that wants to know who I am. Though with the types of dreams I have, I can’t really understand why.”
Gramps opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted when a knocking came on their front door. The three exchanged looks. Granny’s face drew into a frown.
“Who would come calling? I hope everything’s alright.” She wiped her face with her napkin before placing it on the table and going to answer the door.
Gramps and Zack looked at each other over the table as if one of the two men had the answers. They turned to see Granny opening the door and gesturing for someone to enter. The two men couldn’t take their eyes off of the door, as curious as two mice in a new abode.
“Is Raven here?” questioned the pretty blonde that had entered. She was dressed warmly as it had gotten quite chilly once the sun went down. The gentle blue of her coat matched her eyes beautifully and she was pleasant on the eyes.
Granny cocked an eye. “Who?”
The female blushed. “I am sorry. That is what we call him since he can’t remember his own name.”
“Oh,” answered the elder woman in a knowing tone. She grinned broadly. “Of course he is, come in and make yourself at home. We were sitting at dinner, would you like to join?”
The blonde blushed again. “I am sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Annalee.” She tugged on her gloves nervously as the two men watched from behind the corner in the kitchen. Her eyes took in the wonder of being inside Raven’s house, and she could barely concentrate on the words of the woman in front of her.
Granny smiled warmly. “Annalee, you say? That is a pretty name. You must be Caren’s daughter.”
“Yes, ma’am,” nodded the blonde female. “Father needs Raven’s help. He has heard of his skill with firearms and wonders if Raven would like a job even if it doesn’t last that long.”
Granny patted the girl on the arm and steered her towards a chair where she encouraged Annalee to take a seat. “I will send him in. Tell your father I said hello.”
Annalee returned her gentle smile and reclined in a comfortable couch. Granny left the living room and went into the dining room where the two men were sitting at the table, looking as if they hadn’t moved at all and effectively pretending that they had neither seen nor heard what had been happening.
“Zack, honey, Caren’s daughter is here with a job for you.”
“Me?” questioned the dark-haired male, his grey eyes wide.
“Good man that Caren,” inputted Gramps. “Can fix just about anything.”
“Unlike someone we know,” Granny said eyeing her husband affectionately. She settled back into her seat before turning her gaze back onto the stunned, wide-eyed younger male before you. “Don’t keep her waiting, honey. She came here to speak to you.”
Zack nodded slowly and wiped off his face with his napkin though there was really no need. He got up from the table and headed into the living room, missing the shared glance between his two caretakers.
“Annalee?” Zack called out slowly as he stepped into the front room.
The pretty blond jumped up from the couch, fumbling a bit with her clothes as she blushed furiously. The dark-haired man was just so handsome that she found she lost her tongue when confronted by his quiet presence.
“Oh Raven… uh… I mean… Zack,” she mumbled, stumbling over the unfamiliar name.
“Its okay, you can call me Raven, if you want,” he responded, bringing up a hand to stop her. He gestured towards the couch, indicating that she should sit again.
“I can’t really stay. Mother has dinner on the table even now, but Father asked that I come ask you first before he called Gared over in Junon.”
Zack nodded slowly, taking in her appearance. She had kept her coat and gloves on, not really intending to remain. “What does Caren need?” questioned the dark-haired man smoothly.
Annalee blushed. “He recently procured some rather old weapons in disrepair, guns mostly, and was wondering if you would come have a look at them.”
An excited look appeared on the grey-eyed man’s face, lighting up his rather perpetually saddened expression. “Do you know what type or what year?” If there was one thing that Zack enjoyed although he couldn’t remember why, it was guns. He had a knack for fixing them and firing them as well. His accuracy was uncanny.
Annalee smiled at his exuberance. “No, I am sorry. I am pleased that you are interested. Shall I tell father that you will come take a look at them?”
Zack nodded excitedly. “Yes, do so. I am free tomorrow well actually, mostly anytime…” he trailed off, not sure of what else to say.
Annalee laughed. “I will tell him you said that.” She paused then appeared to draw a deep breath as if prepared to say something that might frighten him.
“There was another reason I came.”
Zack stared at her a bit startled. “Oh? And what was that?”
“W… would you care to join me for dinner?” asked the blushing blonde.
The dark-haired man was startled. No one in town had shown him any interest before and to be honest, he hadn’t really thought about it. Annalee was pretty; he gave her that much, but, for some reason, to say yes to her felt like a betrayal to his old self, whoever that was. Like there was someone else he knew he should be with but just didn’t recognize them for who they were.
“It’s quite all right,” Annalee stammered. “I understand if you are not interested.”
She turned to leave and it was then that Zack realized he had taken too long to respond.
“No, wait,” he spoke hurriedly. The blonde female stopped and turned back towards him, a hopeful expression on her face.
“Tomorrow perhaps? At Aga’s Diner? We could discuss what your father wants of me and…” Well, he wasn’t sure what else, but he knew by the lighting up of her eyes that he had spoken the right thing.
“At sunset then?” she asked him excitedly. “I can meet you here and then afterwards you can meet father?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, that would be fine.” But that didn’t stop the feeling that weighed heavily in his heart, like he had chosen wrong or was about to make a mistake.
“Good… that is good,” repeated Annalee, breathing a sigh of relief.
The two stared at each for a moment, a bit awkwardly. Zack shifted his feet, and Annalee smiled nervously.
“Well, uh, I’d better be going,” she said slowly. “I am sure father and mother are waiting so they can start dinner.”
The dark-haired man led her to the door and opened it for her. “Have a good evening, Annalee,” he said politely as she moved slowly across the threshold.
“Pleasant evening, Zack,” she responded with a blush. “I will see you tomorrow.
He waved at her then shut the door as she walked down the front path and took a right, heading for her home just down the street. That was the benefit of living in a small town… most everything was just a few minutes walk away.
The door closed with an audible click, and the dark-haired man turned to find both Granny and Gramps standing behind him, grinning expectantly. He startled for a moment, not expecting the two to be standing so close.
Granny had a rather large smile on her face and was clutching Gramps’ hand as though he were a lifeline. “So, what did she say?”
“As if you didn’t know,” responded Zack airily. “I knew you two were spying.”
Gramps elbowed his wife lovingly and rolled his eyes. “She made me listen. I was trying to enjoy my dinner in peace.”
“Don’t listen to the old man. He was just as curious as I was,” teased the elderly lady. She turned her twinkling gaze on to her adopted son. “So, do you like her?”
Zack shrugged, his merry expression faltering. “I suppose. I don’t entirely know her too well…”
Gramps did not miss the shadow that had passed over the man’s grey eyes. “I am sensing that there is a but somewhere in that sentence.”
The dark-haired man sighed and moved to collapse on the couch, staring aimlessly into the fire. The elderly couple he had come to cherish joined him in the sitting room and lowered themselves into their respective chairs.
“I just can’t help this feeling that I belong somewhere else,” expressed Zack. “I felt a stab of betrayal in my heart when I told her yes. As if there were someone else my affections belonged to. And yet my memory remains as empty as ever.”
“That is understandable, son,” responded Gramps. He pulled out his pipe and began to light it, the familiar smell of tobacco comforting to Zack for a reason he did not comprehend. “Your mind may not remember anything, but your subconscious, feelings and the heart, probably do.”
“But don’t believe that you can’t move on either,” added in Granny. “You deserve happiness as much as the next person. It doesn’t matter whether or not you know who you were before, not when you can move on, and hopefully start a new life.”
“But what do I do if my memories return?” persisted the grey-eyed man. “These are the questions that haunt me day by day. What if I make a new life with someone, then I remember my old love and all the feelings return?”
“That is something that you should deal with when the time comes,” suggested Gramps softly. He turned his soft blue gaze on to the man he had come to love as the son he assumed he had lost so long ago. “There is no need to hide from the future for fear of the past. Your old love would understand that. Anyone who truly loved you would understand that.”
Zack smiled then, small but it managed to hide a bit of the pain that had ghosted over his granite eyes. “You are both so wise in your years. I hope that when I age and have children of my own, I can be as wise to them as you have been to me.”
Granny stood and walked over to her adopted son, giving him a swift and heartfelt hug. “You will always be a child of mine, despite the circumstances.” She held him close for a moment longer before releasing him and heading towards the bedrooms. “I am going to sleep for the night. Leave the dishes on the table; I will get them in the morning.”
Gramps stood up as well, content on following his wife to sleep. He placed a gentle and fatherly hand on Zack’s shoulder’s and winked at him. He didn’t think it necessary to reiterate what his wife had said when he knew that the younger man already understood his feelings. After a moment’s pause, Gramps left Zack in the living room and followed his wife to the bedroom.
“Don’t stay up too late now,” called out the older man gamely as he disappeared down the hall.
Zack could feel his heart swell with warmth at the feelings that the couple had produced in him. They were two honest and good people, truly worthy of all the happiness in the world. He could never quite thank them for all they had done for him. And to accept him as their own? That was the greatest honor.
He had a place of belonging now… a home. And with Annalee, perhaps he would have a future as well.
He might not know his name or his origins or any of his memories but perhaps they were right. He needed to move on and hope for a future and stop dwelling on the past. He would live as Zack and make a life for himself.
And if his memories ever returned… well… he would deal with them as they came.
With that decision, firmly implanted in his mind, Zack ignored the crying of his heart and stared into the dancing flames, envisioning a future that could be his if he only tried.